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Like many hockey players in the 1970s, Tom Lysiak was able to benefit not only from an expanding league, but a rival league that gave many young hockey players the chance to play the sport they loved professionally.
For Tom Lysiak, born in High Prairie, Alberta on April 22, 1953, hockey was something he loved more than anything else.
Spending three years with the Medicine Hat Tigers, from 1970 to 1973, Lysiak would have several explosive seasons. After his first season that saw 30 points in 60 games, he erupted for 143 points in 68 games in 1971-72, followed by 154 points in 1972-73, winning the league scoring title both years and even setting a WHL record when he had a 10-point night. He would play on a line with future NHL stars Stan Weir and Lanny McDonald. He would help lead the Tigers to the President’s Cup in his last season with them. In later years, Tigers President Darrell Maser would state that Lysiak was “definitely considered to be, by many people, the greatest Tiger player of all time.”
Over the course of his career with the Medicine Hat Tigers, he had 327 points in only 195 games.
Drafted second overall after future Hall-of-Famer Denis Potvin in the 1973 draft by the Atlanta Flames. Montreal was interested in Lysiak but he had stated he didn’t want to play for the Canadiens, so they chose Steve Shutt instead. According to legend, he said that Montreal was “prejudiced against players who aren’t French”, and when Scotty Bowman called to ask if he wanted to play for Montreal, he said “no, not really.” He also stated several times he didn’t want to play in Canada, and Atlanta and Montreal agreed to swap picks so Atlanta could choose Lysiak.
In his first season with the Flames in 1973-74, he was second on the team in points with 64, good enough to earn him second in Calder Memorial Trophy voting behind Denis Potvin, and he also helped take the Flames into their first playoff berth.
Over the course of the next five seasons, he would lead the team in scoring, reaching a high of 82 points in 80 games in 1975-76. His efforts with the team also earned him three All-Star Game appearances in 1975, 1976 and 1977. In the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons, he would serve as team captain before he was sent to the Chicago Black Hawks in an eight-person trade, the largest trade in NHL history to that time.
Lysiak was well-loved in Atlanta and he loved living in the area and owned a farm outside they city. When the trade happened, he was devastated but he soon won over the Chicago crowds as well.
Hall-of-Fame teammate Tony Esposito said of Lysiak, “If Lysiak isn’t a hockey player, then I’ve never seen one. He’s unselfish, he puts out for the team and he’s the same guy on the road as he is at home.”
Upon leaving the Atlanta Flames, he was their all-time leader in assists with 276, points with 431 and ranks second in goals with 155.
On a line with Darryl Sutter and Rich Preston, he excelled in his offensive game. Sutter would later say, that Lysiak was the best player he ever played with.
Lysiak would play the next seven seasons with the Black Hawks, earning a career high of 82 points in only 71 games in 1981-82, along with a high of 32 goals. In 1980-81, he would lead the team in scoring with 76 points.
In 1983, he tripped up a linesman in a game against the Hartford Whalers, resulting in a 20-game suspension, one of the longest in NHL history.
Over the course of his NHL career, he would have 292 goals, 551 assists and 843 points in 919 games.
Upon his retirement, he would work in construction, landscaping and real estate in the Atlanta area. In 2012, he was inducted into the National Polish American Sports Hall of Fame. His daughter Jessica would compete on MasterChef and marry Flyers defenseman Justin Braun.
He would pass away from leukaemia in Atlanta on May 30, 2016 at the age of 63. In February of 2017, the Medicine Hat Tigers officially retired Lysiak’s No. 9 jersey, ensuring it would never be worn by any other player again for that team. In one online ranking of the greatest Atlanta/Calgary Flames of all-time, Lysiak finished 20th. Many consider him to be the greatest Atlanta Flame in the history of the franchise before it moved to Calgary. He is also considered one of the best #2 draft picks in league history.
Information for this article comes from Wikipedia, HockeyDB, Sportsnet, NHL.com, Chicago Blackhawk Legends